Plymouth finance chief calls for unity in face of austerity
THE city's finance chief has called on Conservative councillors to put aside party politics and work with him to deal with austerity.
Cllr Mark Lowry, the Cabinet member for finance in the Labour-led Plymouth City Council, said he was facing a budget shortfall of £1.1million at the end of January.
Although he hoped to reduce the overspending by the end of this month, he admitted that he was likely to have to raid the council's reserves to balance the budget.
"There has been an improvement in January of £288,000 and we would like to think that this improvement will continue to the end of the year," Cllr Lowry said. "But the council's budget is decreasing year on year and this job is going to get a lot harder."
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Cllr Lowry was giving a report on spending to the council's overview and scrutiny management board.
Cllr Kevin Wigens (Con, Plymstock Dunstone), a board member, said he was disappointed that Cllr Lowry was not apologising for raising council tax by two per cent.
He said quite a few West Country councils had managed to freeze council tax for a third year. Cllr Lowry said he understood the need for party political point-scoring, but added: "It's time for you to work with us."
He said the main reason for the overspending was adult social care and £375,000 extra costs for street lighting.
The council has also faced £250,000 higher waste costs and lower income from recycling.
Cllr Lowry said that another 110 staff would be "released" in the next few months, easing the wages bill.
"It is going to be challenging to balance the budget. We need to have a firm grip on the finances."
Cllr Lowry said he expected to have to raid the reserves.
"We don't want to keep money in the bank while cutting frontline services," he said.
But Cllr David James (Con, Plympton St Mary), a scrutiny board member, said he was concerned about the precedent set by taking cash from the reserves.
Cllr Patrick Nicholson (Con, Plympton St Mary), another board member, questioned an extra £300,000 spent on the roads.
"Is this funding the shoddy placing of tarmac in potholes which washes out in the next rain?" he said.
Cllr Lowry said he was setting aside £20million over the next ten years to resurface the city's roads. "The idea is to stop throwing good money after bad," he said.